Monday, July 1, 2013

You bad, we bad, its over... or maybe not...

From the Huffington Post:

Senior Roman Catholic and Lutheran officials announced on Monday they would mark the 500th anniversary of the Reformation in 2017 as a shared event rather than highlight the clash that split Western Christianity.
The Vatican and the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) presented a report in Geneva admitting both were guilty of harming Christian unity in the past and describing a growing consensus between the two churches in recent decades.

The 500th anniversary of Martin Luther's 95 Theses, the doctrinal challenge that launched the Protestant Reformation, will be the first centenary celebration in the age of ecumenism, globalisation and the secularisation of Western societies.

"The awareness is dawning on Lutherans and Catholics that the struggle of the 16th century is over," the report said. "The reasons for mutually condemning each other's faith have fallen by the wayside."

They now agree belief in Jesus unites them despite lingering differences, it said, and inspires them to cooperate more closely to proclaim the Gospel in increasingly pluralistic societies.

"This is a very important step in a healing process which we all need and we are all praying for," LWF General Secretary Martin Junge said at the report's presentation in Geneva.

"The division of the church is something we cannot celebrate but we can see what is positive and try to find ways towards the future together," said Cardinal Kurt Koch, head of the Vatican's department to promote Christian unity.


For the life of me I cannot understand either the LWF seeking Rome's participation in the 500th anniversary of the Reformation or Rome's desire to minimize the differences.  This is false ecumenism.  It will reap no lasting rewards.

We have a history of glossing over differences when we want to and generally this leads to disappointment and a unity which is in word only.  If the Reformation deserves anything, it deserves an honest appraisal of the claims made in the sixteenth century, the counterclaims of Rome, and whether the situation today is sufficiently different to change the relationship.

Let me say unequivocally that I believe that Lutheranism and Rome are kissing cousins and stand seemingly together in the face of a liberal Protestantism that isn't sure what it believes and an evangelicalism devoid of God's presence except in feeling.  However, that said, the integrity of both sides requires that we face the differences honestly and openly and not paper over them for the sake of an anniversary.

I long for the day when Rome will repent of its errors and name the Augustana as a catholic confession.  I long for the day when Lutherans in name only will have enough integrity to be the Church they confess to be in their Concordia.  I long for the day when characterizations and vitriol can be replaced by honest theological dialogue.  I believe that Lutherans will have some apologizing to do as well (less so for the Confessions than for things written and said in the name of Lutheranism outside those Confessions).  Nothing could be better than a true unity of confession, built upon the Scriptures, faithful to the catholic tradition, maintaining the careful distinction between Law and Gospel.  There is more work ahead of us than just meetings of the leadership.  In parish and practice both Rome and Wittenberg will have to live up to their positions and that will require internal reform as well.  At this point I see too much on Rome's plate to see this happen effectively from their point of view and a fractured Lutheranism that offers Rome a less than authentic dialogue partner.  So a little anniversary party might be nice but it is not going to get either side from here to there.

A personal note here... I fail to see how Rome thinks that the LWF is the accurate face of Lutheranism.  For all of Missouri's problems and inclination to ignore Rome, Missouri remains closest in faith and practice to the confessional expression of Lutheranism.  It would seem to me that both Missouri and Rome might be the best voices to begin to address the rift.  Many, if not most of those involved in the Lutheran World Federation ordain women and gays and believe at best the Bible contains a few words of God among the many words of man.  If I were Rome, and I am not, I could not get past this to begin talking to anyone at the level of LWF.

7 comments:

Janis Williams said...

Would that Christianity had the long memory of Islam. I am not advocating for anything it holds "theologically." It has nothing in common there with Christianity. The fact that Islam remembers every difference seemingly forever might be one thing of which Catholics and Lutherans could take note.

Unknown said...

Dear Rev. Peters: you write, “I long for the day when Rome will repent of its errors and name the Augustana as a catholic confession. I long for the day when Lutherans in name only will have enough integrity to be the Church they confess to be in their Concordia. “ Having written that, I am fairly sure that you are certain that neither one of these things will happen within our life time. But if this is the path we need to take in order to bring about the visible unity of the Church, then, it seems to me, it is not a matter of meeting half way. In spite of the aberrations among “Lutherans in name only”, I suspect that Rome would have a longer path to travel than those Lutherans. On the other hand, both paths are based on the acceptance of Lutheran principles, and this would seem to set up an unfair handicap for the Roman Catholic side. In other words, they would have to radically change their doctrines; we would simply have to take ours seriously.

My suggestion would be for both sides to attempt to reach agreement on a definition of the Gospel, without reference to either Roman Catholic doctrine or the Lutheran Confessions – only from Scripture. If such a task were to be accomplished, then both sides could see if Roman Catholic doctrine and the Lutheran Confessions agree or disagree with this definition. I am certain that such an approach would find that Roman Catholic doctrine would have to be adjusted much more than the Lutheran one. I am equally certain that some changes would have to be made to the Lutheran Confessions. But if we were to adopt the attitude of “quia confessors”, that there are no major doctrinal errors in the Lutheran Confessions, then it would be pointless to even begin the process. Although we could begin it if we merely agreed that there might be some major doctrinal errors in the Lutheran Confessions, but we are simply not aware of any. May I add that I would value a common, agreed definition of the Gospel infinitely more than finding a single error in the Lutheran Confessions.

May I further suggest that in trying to define what the Gospel is, we take into account the following, “Certainly we must never conceive ‘salvation’ in purely negative terms, as if it consisted only of our rescue from sin, guilt, wrath and death. We thank God that it is all these things. But it also includes the positive blessing of the Holy Spirit to regenerate, indwell, liberate and transform us.” (John R. W. Stott, Baptism and Fullness. The Work of the Holy Spirit today. Inter Varsity Press, P. 25, 26.). Or, since I set up this exercise on the basis of using Scripture only, here are the words of our Lord, Luke 4: 43, “but he said to them, “I must preach the Gospel of the Kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose,” and, Luke 16: 16 “The Law and the Prophets were until John; since then the Gospel of the Kingdom of God is preached…” And finally, St. Paul, Colossians 1: 13, “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the Kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”

Amen, Lord come quickly!
George A. Marquart

SCEcclesia said...

Just a thought. Have you read the document that has been produced? I think there is some good stuff in it. See http://www.lutheranworld.org/sites/default/files/From%20Conflict%20to%20Communion.pdf One thing that the document recognises is that the current position in some Lutheran Churches regarding women's ordination and homosexuality is a bigger stumbling block for unity than was posed by the 16th Century issues.

Of course, from our side there are many saying "Why should we celebrate a schism?", which is a fair enough question. I think you have pointed, however, to the reason why Lutherans and Catholics do need to stand together. After 500 years, are the issues between exactly what they once were? Are we not in a position now to revisit the difficulties? Remember that even in the 16th Century, the division was not inevitable, had there been a little more eirenicism on both sides, and had the political situation not been what it was.

In any case. Read the text. Then say your piece.

SCEcclesia said...

Nb. I think there is merit in GAM's suggestion that the first thing we should be discussing is the meaning of "gospel" in the scriptures.

Anonymous said...

Isn't that what the JDDJ was supposed to do -- justification being pretty central to the definition of Gospel??

Unknown said...

I read “From Conflict to Communion. Lutheran-Catholic Common Commemoration of the Reformation in 2017” through the section on Justification, and then skimmed the rest of it. I find it to be a remarkable document. The two things that stood out to me right away were that 1. The Roman Catholic side seems to be much closer to the Lutheran understanding of the points at issue than I had thought possible; 2. The Lutheran side did not always represent Lutheran doctrine as I understand it. This last statement should not be understood as condemning the LWF, as if to say “what else do you expect from them?” The items I disagreed with are the same as those with which I have problems in the LCMS.

One concern I have is the references to “Luther’s search for a gracious God.” Even Pope Benedict was quoted on this point. As I understand it, Luther searched for a way to survive with a righteous, vengeful God, until he discovered the gracious God in Romans. The point is that Luther did not find what he was looking for; God found him and revealed Himself as a gracious God.

In the introduction, I found the following statement: “Both as individuals and as a community of believers, we all constantly require repentance and reform – encouraged and led by the Holy Spirit. »When our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, said ›Repent,‹ He called for the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.« Thus reads the opening statement of Luther’s 95 Theses from 1517, which triggered the Reformation movement.” I often hear Lutherans refer to this as an article of faith. In reality, this simply shows that at the time, Luther, and today we, do not understand what it means to be a member of the Kingdom of God.

On P33, in writing about the presentation of the Augsburg Confession, it reads,
“71. Immediately, some Catholic theologians saw the need to respond to the
Augsburg Confession and quickly produced the Confutation of the Augsburg Confession.” A statement like that calls into question the qualifications of every member who signed the statement. Or is this an attempt to save the Roman Catholic side from embarrassment? If the Lutherans are called to repent of Luther’s writings about the Jews and to the peasants during the peasants’ revolt, do we have to hide this shameful incident from history?

In the introduction we read, Page 9, “The true unity of the church can only exist as unity in the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ.” Apparently SCEcclesia and I are not the only people who have thought of this. But the document implies that everybody agrees on that part. I know there is disagreement on what the Gospel really is among Lutherans. I have noticed that over the recent few years the Roman Catholic Church has moved closer to what I think is a scriptural position from where they had been.

The joint celebration is only scheduled for 2017. It will be interesting to see further developments. But on the whole, I find this document encouraging.

Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart

Pastor Peters said...

Try reading Herman Sasse's Here We Stand. The Reformation was NOT simply Luther's search for a gracious God. It was primarily the search for true authority, not one of council or individual but of Scripture (and not a Scripture under the dominion of individual reason and judgment).

I was not saying that Rome is all bad or that we need to trot out all our own condemnations of the past. I was condemning the papering over of differences as an impediment to true ecumenism.

The LWF cannot even agree on justification so how can Lutherans and Rome agree?

We Lutherans have to be true to who we are (the bad and the good) and so does Rome. Then we can find reconciliation and the courage to confess together, with conviction, this we believe.